Westminister Committee trying to sneak in Swedish Model NEXT WEEK
Urgent: MPs trying to criminalise clients
Posted on October 30, 2014
This is a briefing (below) we have prepared against a clause to the Modern Slavery Bill which aims to criminalise sex workers’ clients.
[Model letter omitted, have to be a UK resident. Available on ECP website.]
Briefing against clauses to the Modern Slavery Bill
to prohibit the purchase of sexual services.
An amendment and two clauses to the Modern Slavery Bill put forward by Fiona Mactaggart MP aim to ‘make the purchase of sex illegal, remove the criminal sanctions against prostituted women and provide support to women who want to leave prostitution’.
We support the amendment which would remove the offence of loitering and soliciting for women working on the street. This decriminalisation should be extended to sex workers working from premises. The brothel-keeping legislation should be amended so that women can work more safely together. In 2006, the Home Office acknowledged: “. . . the present definition of brothel ran counter to advice that, in the interests of safety, women should not sell sex alone.”
We strongly oppose the clauses criminalising clients, on the basis of women’s safety. Criminalising clients does not stop prostitution, nor does it stop the criminalisation of women. It drives prostitution further underground, making it more dangerous and stigmatising for women.
Any benefit from decriminalising loitering and soliciting will be cancelled if clients are criminalised. Women will have to go underground if clients are underground. Kerb-crawling legislation has already made it more dangerous for prostitute women and men. In Scotland, since kerb-crawling legislation was introduced in October 2007, the number of assaults on sex workers have soared. Attacks reported to one project almost doubled in one year from 66 to 126.
Many of the claims that have been made about the impact of the 1999 Swedish law which criminalised clients are false and have no evidential basis.
1. The Swedish law has not resulted in a reduction in sex trafficking.
Fiona Mactaggart MP claimed that criminalising clients “has been shown to reduce sex trafficking ever since it was first adopted in Sweden in 1999”. There is no evidence cited to support this claim.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women “strongly opposes introducing criminal penalties against the clients of sex workers.” Their 2011 research found that “criminalising sex workers’ clients does not reduce sex work or trafficking. Instead, it infringes on sex workers’ rights and obstructs anti-trafficking efforts.”
False claims about trafficking have been used before to justify a crackdown on prostitution. In the run up to the Policing and Crime Act which increased the criminalisation of prostitution, Mactaggart claimed that “80% of women in prostitution are controlled by traffickers”. This figure has been comprehensively discredited.
In reality anti-trafficking legislation is primarily being used to target immigrant sex workers for raids and deportations. During well publicised raids on Soho flats last year, done in the name of freeing victims of trafficking, 250 police broke down doors and dragged handcuffed immigrant women in their underwear onto the streets. No trafficking was found and most flats were eventually re-opened. But at what cost to women’s safety and dignity, and to the public purse? The Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Human Trafficking confirms that “victims may often find themselves treated as immigration offenders and face enforcement actions such as detention and removals.
Considering that “internationally only 22% of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation” creating fair working conditions and ending abuses in low-wage labour industries will do far more to end trafficking in persons and protect the human rights of workers in vulnerable situations.
Existing laws already criminalise those who coerce anyone into the sex industry. Why extend them to consenting sex?
2. The Swedish law has not reduced prostitution.
Claims that street prostitution has “halved between 1999 and 2008” are disputed by Rose Alliance, the sex worker organisation in Sweden, which says that numbers have since gone back up. Research by the National Bureau of Investigation found no reduction in indoor prostitution. It estimated that in 2009 there were 90 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm. At the turn of 2011/2012, the number had risen to about 250 and throughout the country about 450.” In Norway where a similar law was introduced, Pro-Sentret, Oslo’s official help centre for sex workers, published their 2012 annual report with evidence that the numbers of sex workers had not decreased and that the levels of violence against sex workers had not been affected by the law either.
Evidence from the End Demand campaign that the number of men saying they buy sexual services has decreased from 14% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008 is not reliable. How can these figures be trusted? Since buying sexual services was not criminal in 1996 there was less reason for men to lie than in 2008. These figures are countered by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare which concluded that it was “difficult to discern any clear trend of development ... of prostitution” up or down.
More recent research found that sex workers had been displaced or had moved indoors: “... declines in levels of street sex work appear to signal a displacement of public sex work, with sex workers selling sex indoors as opposed to from the street to avoid authoritative detection and involvement.” And sex workers themselves report: “You hide on the internet, it’s not visible anymore. . . . There are people everywhere, but you don’t see them. It’s all hidden. ‘Cause we don’t wanna get caught.” 
What is happening to women? Welfare has been cut so that “a quarter of single mothers in Sweden now live in poverty, compared to 10% seven years ago.” In our experience welfare cuts result in increased prostitution. What has happened to women since the criminalisation of clients has made it harder to work in prostitution while their economic safety has been reduced? Have they been driven underground? Are they safer or better paid? Are they more able to get other jobs? Why are these questions not being asked?
3. Since the criminalisation of clients the treatment of sex workers in Sweden has worsened. (Please see Appendix for examples).
4. Evidence from sex workers has been ignored.
Evidence from sex workers in Sweden and Northern Ireland has been ignored. A law criminalising clients has been introduced despite research done by Queen’s University Belfast for the Dept. of Justice which found that 90% of sex workers opposed the law and 61% specifically said it would make it more dangerous.
5. The criminalisation of clients increases women’s vulnerability to violence.
Violence against sex workers is cited to justify these clauses. Mactaggart states: “Prostitutes are far more likely than other women to be murdered – usually by their clients – and nearly three-quarters have experienced physical abuse. Most suffer from PTSD.”
We do not dispute that prostitute women suffer high levels of rape and other violence. But criminalisation and police crackdowns increase the danger by forcing women to work in isolation and make it harder to report rape and other violence. The ECP has fought a number of cases where women reported serious attacks to the police and were themselves prosecuted or threatened with prosecution while their attackers went free. Senior police officers have admitted that: “[police] operations to tackle [prostitution] are “counterproductive” and likely to put the lives of women at risk.”
Criminalisation of clients will further undermine sex workers’ safety. A recent Vancouver study found that “criminalisation and policing strategies that target clients . . . profoundly impacted the safety strategies sex workers employed. Sex workers continued to mistrust police, had to rush screening clients and were displaced to outlying areas with increased risks of violence, including being forced to engage in unprotected sex.”
The claim that ‘most [sex workers] suffer from PTSD’ came from research by Melissa Farley. Her research has been discredited because of “methodological flaws” and her evidence in the Bedford v Canada constitutional challenge was “assigned less weight” because of “contradictions and unsubstantiated assertions” by Justice Himel.
6. The Safety First Coalition formed after the murder of five women in Ipswich opposes the criminalisation of clients.
Safety First includes the Royal College of Nursing, Women Against Rape, the Hampshire Women’s Institute, the National Association of Probation Officers, anti-poverty campaigners, church people,residents of red light areas, members of the medical and legal professions, prison reformers, sex worker and drugs rehabilitation projects. Their main concern is health and safety. They say: “Prostitution is a survival strategy to deal with poverty, debt, rape, low wages, homelessness, unemployment… Most sex workers are mothers or young people; often they are both. Many have been in care or have had their children taken from them. . . . Criminalising consenting sex – targeting sex workers, clients or both – pushes prostitution underground. It deters women from reporting violence and exploitation and forces women into isolated, less well lit areas.”
The Swedish Model is a failure, and the Swedes know it.